Monday, December 31, 2007

My Cat's New Year's Resolutions

My cat, Meeko, wanted to share her New Year's resolutions with you:

Improve stalking technique - humans have caught on to my toe-nipping ways

Exercise more - try out that new cat toy the human was so excited about

Stop trying to catch the chipmunk through the protective glass shield

Don't automatically respond to the can opener when it's used - sometimes it's just tomatoes

Don't tease neighbour's dog through fence

Eat food from the bowl, not from the floor

Make sure my butt is inside the box when I use the litter

Stop staring down stairs to the dark basement with tail puffed up (especially when female human is home alone)

Stop batting small, shiny objects under fridge and stove

Don't climb Christmas tree or eat tinsel

Find out where humans hide the catnip

Happy Mew Year! Happy Mew Year! Happy Mew Year! Happy Mew Year! Happy Mew Year! Happy Mew Year! Happy Mew Year

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Warning: This Post is Not About Animals

Before I begin my rant, I want to apologize for blogging about something other than animals. I have only one excuse:

I'm a bit peeved.

This is a story about a customer (me) and a car maker (Honda) and a complaint:

I recently replaced my 2001 Honda Accord with a 2008 model. In fact, I bought the '08 as soon as the car came out. Within a couple of weeks, Honda Canada offered a $4000 rebate to customers buying the new Accord. I applied for the rebate, but was declined as I'd purchased before the rebate offer was announced. In other words, because of my eagerness to own the new model, Honda is penalizing me.

I explained (sincerely) in a second letter to them that because they chose to deny me the rebate, I would never purchase another Honda, and I would tell my friends and family how the company treats their customers. Well, I received a letter from them today with their final decision, and now I'm passing on the message:

If you want good customer service and a company that rewards loyalty, then don't buy a Honda.

Okay, I'm done whining. I may eventually delete this post, but today, I just had to get it out of my system. And I want to note that I've never had a problem with the maintenance and service Honda gave on my 2001 Accord--it was always top notch.

Now, back our regular program.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Gift

Readers of this blog have shared stories and memories of their own pets, plus their thoughts and concerns for the other animals around them. I think it's safe to say we all have a healthy respect and love for our furry friends. But there are many who consider an animal something to be conquered, abused and/or abandoned.

Why the difference? Is it a case of nature versus nurture? Are some of us born with an innate ability to open our hearts to animals, while others lack that special gene? Were we taught to care about them when others may have skipped that particular class? Perhaps a bit of both.

When I was a kid, we had a dog named Tammy, a friendly and affectionate Samoyed. My sister and I were there for the birth of her two litters of fluffy, white puppies, and given the responsibility to care for them. It was a wonderful experience. My parents gave us the tools to look after the puppies, and showed us how to use them. The love just came naturally.

My dad's fondness for wildlife is, amongst family and friends, quite renowned. Along with Christmas lights, my parents' home is strung with bird feeders. Screened trays are set out for the squirrels, and a heated bath welcomes the frost-nipped birds. About ten years ago, my mom saved a six week old white kitten she found in a parking lot. Today, that cat shares my parent's home and their love.

I believe I've passed on to my daughter the lessons my parents taught me. She cares about animals, and is as dismayed by any cruelty just as much as I am. Or perhaps she was born with that extra love in her heart. Whichever, it doesn't matter. Respect for animals is a gift--the kind of gift that keeps on giving.

Thanks to all for sharing your own stories of beloved pets. I look forward to reading more of them in the New Year.

What Makes Me Smile?

Fuzzy Logic tagged me for seven things that annoy me and seven things that make me smile. It was difficult coming up with stuff that bothers me--perhaps because this is the season to be jolly. I could only think of one:

1) Lack of common courtesy.

Stuff that makes me smile? That was far easier:

1) My daughter's achievements
2) Sunshine
3) Morning coffee
4) Laughter
5) Dogs wagging their tails
6) Meals--when they're prepared by someone else (I suppose that means cooking annoys me)
7) Spending time with friends and family

Monday, December 17, 2007

All I Want For Christmas: Part II

We can't forget about the cats on our Christmas lists, can we? True, my cat would be more than happy to find a piece of string in her stocking--as long as it came with a promise from me to wave and pull the string for hours on end. Surely, there must be other items out there we can spend our money on to indulge our feline friends:

Cat Crinkle Sack

I've seen these crackling cloth sacks in the store, and wondered if they'd amuse my cat. Would love to know if anyone has purchased one, and whether or not your cat played with the sack.

Cat Vomit Warning Sign

I admit, my cat wouldn't be too excited to find this under the tree, but it works for me. It's amazing how everyone else in my family tip-toes around the vomit until I come home, then they point it out to me upon my arrival. This sign would save them the trouble.

Kingfisher KatKabin

In the comments of my Winterizing Your Pet post, Raggedy Angst asked how to keep an stray cat warm during the cold months. Here's the perfect gift for the cat who won't come in--if you want to spend about $155.00.

Hidden Litter Box

If you live in an apartment, hiding the kitty litter box can be a real problem. I think this litter box in a planter is a great idea. Now, all you have to worry about is where to hide the planter.

Kitty Wigs! Bashful Blonde

We all get gifts that make us wonder, "What the hell were they thinking?" But I figure this little item would make a great toy for your cat to bat around the house.

Merry Christmas to all the critters in (and outside of) your home.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

All I Want For Christmas: Part I

I've covered useless dog products, so seeing as it's Christmas, I thought I'd check up on the cute, not so useless products out there.

Doggy Smile

At first glance, I thought this was rather gruesome, but it's actually a fetch toy. It's for people who like to laugh at their dog, I suppose.

Dog Raincoat

The other day, I drove by a woman walking her dog in the freezing rain, and I wondered if the dog was cold, and how long it took to dry off once they arrived home. Suddenly, I realized that I was wrong about dogs and clothing, and how they should never come together. Raincoats for dogs makes perfect sense.

Certified 100% biodegradable Dog waste bags and cat pan liners. No Polyethylene, nature knows the difference

I like these--environmentally friendly poop and scoop bags, and cat pan liners.

Slobber-Wick Squeakless Bone Dog Toy

This toy sucks up the slobber, and since I'm now a cat owner and no longer used to drool, this is the perfect hostess gift to bring along when I visit a friend with a playful, drooling dog.

And because there are so many useless products for pets, I had to include at least one:

Sport Dog Swim Trunks - Casual Canine Dog Clothes

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Not So Wild Kingdom

When I was a kid, about the only wildlife show on television was Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Each week, Marlin Perkins and his sidekick, Jim, would bring the world of nature into our living rooms. Not satisfied with merely observing the animals doing their thing, the hosts would get right in there--wrestling alligators or swooping down on an unsuspecting (and terrified) deer.


Wild Kingdom may have opened nature's back door to a generation of viewers, but their tactics were, at best, questionable. Why did they have to get so close to the animals? When I think back on it, one of the hosts was always on screen, and the wildlife merely a backdrop to be manipulated into following a set script. Or maybe I'm just getting more cynical and cranky.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Chowder and Me

Long Haired Tabby Cat
In 2001, when my cat, Chowder (pictured), was eleven years old, she was diagnosed with feline diabetes. I'd taken her to the vet because she'd been drinking an excessive amount of water, and urinating frequently. I was devastated when I heard the news. The vet explained that Chowder would require two insulin shots each day--two shots that I would have to give her.

I'm terrified of needles. The sight of one, even on television, is enough to make me cover my eyes and try to think of happy things like rainbows and unicorns. Yes, I was beyond upset that my cat was sick, but the thought that her survival depended upon me administering needles meant, I believed, that she was doomed.

The next day, with an orange in my pocket, my husband, daughter and I went to the vet for shot-giving lessons. Poor Chowder was also brought along so we could experiment on her, after the orange was almost bursting with saline solution. And you know, it was easy. It may have been because her long fur hid the needle as it penetrated her skin, or it could have been because I loved her so much, I'd have done anything for her.

There were ups and downs over the next five years--always having to kennel her at the vet when we vacationed because she seldom let anyone else (other than a determined vet employee) administer the shots; the introduction of a kitten, Meeko, into our home made Chowder even grouchier in her old age; and times when I thought we'd lose her because she no longer seemed to be responding to her insulin. Yet she was just a few days shy of her 17th birthday when I discovered her one morning, weak and unable to eat or drink. She'd vomited all over the kitchen floor--one of the few times she'd not done the deed on the carpets. The vet confirmed what I'd already guessed. Chowder was dying.

My husband was away, but my daughter and I were able to say goodbye to Chowder. When she finally closed her eyes, she looked peaceful, her face relaxed and almost kittenish.

For more information about feline diabetes, check this out.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Wear Fur, Help the Environment

When I first saw this half-page ad in Canada's Globe and Mail, I thought it was some kind of joke--a Saturday Night Live skit via print media. Apparently, the Fur Council of Canada isn't trying to be funny--they really do believe that trapping or wearing fur is good for the environment. I'll file this one under "Grasping at straws".

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tag -- You're It

Last week, Brenda tagged me to list the five things in life that I'm thankful for. I wondered if I should make all five things pet or animal-related because, you know, this blog is all about critters. I decided that anyone reading this blog knows that I like animals, so to write a list of animal-related stuff that I'm thankful for...well, that might just make me seem a little too much like the crazy cat lady.

I'm thankful for:

My family and friends (and animals, of course)

Good health

Knowing better than to waste time looking back on life with regret

Summer (which can't come back too soon)

A husband who cooks (now I've just got to find me one who cleans)

I'd love to hear what you're thankful for.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good

In Going, Going, Gone, I reported that the black-footed ferret was teetering on the brink of extinction. The good news is they have made a come-back in Wyoming. In 1987, the last seven known ferrets were captured and placed in a breeding program. They have since produced 4,800 juveniles, many of which were returned to the wild.

The Bad

The Ontario SPCA reports that Parks Canada plans to cull (shoot) several thousand Double-crested Cormorants beginning in Spring 2008.

In the last five years, the cormorant colony has declined from 6,600 to 4,600 nests. Parks Canada would like to see a more substantial decrease in the number of nests on Middle Island, in an effort to stop and hopefully reverse some of the destructive effects this colony is having on the island.

From an OSPCA news release:

Parks Canada has stated that they will not proceed with the cull if there are enough objections from the public.

"Previous cormorant culls performed in North America have demonstrated that one in three birds that have been shot do not die immediately or without suffering, resulting in many birds suffering for days before finally dying," says Animal Care Program Manager Judith Wilson. "As well as being inhumane, culling is an ineffective solution to reduce a population. The killing of animals existing in an ecosystem simply provides opportunities for other individuals to occupy the vacancies left by the animals that were killed."

The Ontario SPCA encourages the public to express to Parks Canada and their Member of Parliament their objections to shooting Cormorants as a method of reducing the colony size and their preference for humane and more effective alternatives. Humane alternatives include leaving Middle Island to evolve through its natural processes or using alternative humane methods (such as deterrent techniques, predator platforms, nest destruction, and oiling and addling eggs) to manage the colony on the island.

Share your objections to culling
Email Parks Canada at
Contact your Member of Parliament. Call 1-866-599-4999 or visit Government Canada for contact information.

The Ugly

On November 18, a fleet of Japanese ships set sail, intending to kill over 1,000 whales, including 50 humpback whales, for "scientific purposes".

"Humpback whales in our research area are rapidly recovering," said Hideki Moronuki, whaling chief at the Fisheries Agency. "Taking 50 humpbacks from a population of tens of thousands will have no significant impact." He adds that killing whales allows marine biologists to study their internal organs.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No Guts, No Glory

If you're a regular visitor to my blog, you'll have noticed that I seldom address the real issues affecting animals. Sure, I've shared my views on animals performing in circuses, dogs left in sun-soaked cars, and the loss of the world's wildlife. But the down and dirty stuff? No.

I haven't the guts to read about abused animals, never mind write about them. I know the horror stories are out there, and it just about breaks my heart to acknowledge that there are some people (and I use that term lightly) who would treat an animal with anything but love and respect.

Luckily, there's lots of brave folks who can and do deal with the important stuff. And so, today, I'm honouring those who make a difference--thank you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Perfect Christmas Story

Yes, it's a bit early, but I wanted to give everyone plenty of time to order the most perfect Christmas story--you know, one that you traditionally curl up with on Christmas Eve. In our house, it's The Christmas Day Kitten, written by James Herriot, and illustrated by Ruth Brown.

I've been a James Herriot fan for years. His books detail his life as a country vet in Yorkshire, and are both heartwarming and humorous. The Christmas Day Kitten is all that and more. It's a 30 page, illustrated story about a stray cat, I won't ruin the surprise. Just buy the book, and make it a tradition in your own home. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Animal Adages

Cat got your tongue? A pig in a poke? Three dog night? If you're anything like me, you've spent many sleepless nights wondering about the origin of those adages. So put away your sleeping pills because I'm going to answer these burning questions--in other words, I'm going to put you to sleep.

Cat got your tongue?
Well, this one's a little gross. It may have originiated, long ago, in the Mideast, when it was common to punish a liar by cutting out his tongue. This tasty treat was then given to the king's pet cats for dinner.

A pig in a poke
Means to buy something without examination--an unknown. In the middle ages, a suckling pig would be sold in a bag (a poke). Some sellers would try to trick buyers by putting a cat in the bag instead. So don't buy a pig in a bag without checking it out first. You've been warned.

Cat's out of the bag
When the buyer finally got home with what he believed was a pig in a poke (see above), he discovered the bag held a cat instead. The cat was out of the bag, and the truth was known.

Three dog night
All these years, I thought Three Dog Night was just an early 70's band. Wrong. This adage comes from Australia, and means that on cold nights, aboriginals would sleep in a hole in the ground while embracing a dingo (or three).

Hope this helps with all that tossing and turning.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Just some updates on previous posts:

1) Was downtown yesterday, and saw that the hawk silhouettes are still on the Stock Exchange windows. It's been about 20 years since I wrote that letter, so that's kind of cool.

2) My friend, Carolyn, has an update on the dog she found during the California fires. You can read all about it here (plus some great pics).

3) Still searching for the perfect wide-enough-for-whiskers bowl.

4) Have only written 4,200 words on my WIP. Since I'd like to write 1,000 each day this month, I appear to running behind. I was having trouble getting into my lackluster characters, but had an "aha" moment on the train yesterday. Hopefully, I'll be able to run with it.

Picture from Public Domain

Monday, November 5, 2007

How to Get Rid of Stray Cats in One (Not so Easy) Swoop

(Note: This post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. If you need helpful advice about dealing with stray and feral cats, click here for my post about feral and stray cats, plus helpful comments from readers.)

Last summer, I found a huge raccoon-sized cat under the leaves of a hosta in my backyard. He had blue eyes, blond/grey fur, and was abolutely gorgeous. It was a hot day, so I brought him water and food. After he ate, he lazed around for several hours before making his way across the street to the forest.

He returned several times over the next week. I can't blame him--my backyard had become his holiday resort. I thought he might have been lost, so I attempted to put him in my cat's carrier to have the vet look for a chip. I gave up on the carrier after 15 minutes of struggling with what must have have one of the strongest cats I've ever encountered. He never bit or scratched--he just put his muscle into the job of staying out of that carrier. Finally, I just placed him in the backseat of the car and left the carrier behind.

Dripping with sweat after the workout, I drove to the vet, while my feline Arnold Schwarzenegger gazed out of the passenger window. The vet said the cat was old, neutered, well-cared for, but without a chip. So back in the car we went. When we reached my house, I opened the car door, he hopped out and took off across the street.

I always imagined that if he could talk, this is what he would have told his owners when (if?) he got home that night:

"Meow! You can't even begin to imagine the kind of day I had. I get invited to lunch and before I know it, BAMM! Some crazy lady tries to shove me in a box, traps me in her car, then takes me to the vet (and you know how I hate the vet). "

Well, surprise, he never came back. Until this summer, that is.

He visited me once more, had a bite to eat and a cool bowl of water then slept in the shade of the garden for the afternoon. I guess the cat's memory was bad (the vet did say he was old), and he'd forgotten all about last year's 'episode'. Nonetheless, I was very pleased to see the big guy was alive and well.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

And Now for the Good News

Just some good news for all you pet owners out there (and now that I think about it, "pet owners" sounds wrong, doesn't it? Would pet companions be better? Pet slaves? I'm open to suggestions). Anyway, on to the good news:

People who have pets live longer and have fewer heart attacks.

I think having kids might cancel out this benefit. So play it safe--have twice as many pets as you have children.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lean Times

November is going to be my "Write Like Mad" month, so posts on Animal Ovation may be few and far between. I haven't got a title for this new YA fantasy, and I do like having a title for my WIPs (even if it gets changed later on). Since I've not written anything except this blog for a year, knuckling down and working on the book will be...interesting.

Edited to add: I will be posting in November, but they'll most likely be tiny, mouse-sized posts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween for the Furry Set

Halloween can be a scary time for your pet. Just a few things to keep in mind:

Chocolate is toxic to pets (I know it's toxic to my thighs--must resist temptation).

Candles should be kept away from wagging tails.

Kids and the constantly ringing doorbell can freak a pet out. Best to keep pets in another room.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Knowing Your A Bee C's

Honeybees go about their business collecting nectar and, inadvertently, pollinating the many plants they visit. They've been doing it for thousands of years and will continue on for thousands more.

Or will they?

Last night, Nature (PBS) took veiwers on one of its more frightening rides. The series, "Silence of the Bees", searched for answers to the puzzling decline in honeybee numbers. Scientists and beekeepers have a name for it--Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Just last month, the main cause of CCD was discovered by American researchers. From Nature's website:

Researchers have "linked CCD with a virus imported from Australia, IAPV or Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. Over the past three years, genetic tests on bees collected from stricken colonies around the U.S. found the virus in 96 percent of bees from hives affected by Colony Collapse Disorder."

Last winter's loss of tens of billions of bees has not greatly impacted our lives. But if CCD continues, and the pollination that bees provide stops, then crops such as apples, nuts, broccoli, soybeans, celery, squash and cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, and melons will disappear. Without honeybees, animal-feed crops, such as the clover that's fed to dairy cows, will be affected.

Until scientists, hopefully, remedy the situation, we can all do our best to help keep bees nourished and healthy:

Grow flowers and herbs that attract bees:

Basil, Borage, Catnip, Cornflower, Dill, Echinacea, Evening Primrose, Fennel, Goldenrod, Horehound, Hyssop, Lavender, Parsley, Poppy, Thyme, Sage, Bachelor's Button, Black-Eyed Susan, Butterfly Bush, Clematis, Coreopsis, Dame's Rocket, Foxglove, Goldenrod, Heliotrope, Hydrangea, Lantana, Larkspur, Mexican Hat, Plumbago, Rose of Sharon, Salvia, Sweet William, Zinnia

Plant many of the same species close to each other.

Bees are most attracted to gardens with ten or more species of plants.

Wild and weedy is good.

Don't use pesticides!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What About the Animals?

Families evacuated, homes lost, and forests destroyed--the fires continue their terrifying assault on California. Of course, I worry about the people living there, and the firefighters who work so hard and in such dangerous conditions, but whenever I hear about these disasters, I always wonder, What about the animals?

For pet owners, many shelters have been set up to ease the burden caused by the evacuation. A friend, a California resident, rescued a dog she found wandering alone in a park. She told me about another abandoned pet that was taken to the vet, only to have it discovered that the sickly pit bull puppy suffered from Canine Parvovirus (PARVO), a potentially deadly disease.

And what about wildlife? Lizards, snakes and rodents burrow underground, so are relatively safe. Birds, unless nesting, easily fly from the fires. Larger animals, such as foxes, deer and bears, are at greater risk since their only means of escape is by running away which, depending on the fire's speed, is not always successful.

For those animals who do make it, surviving the fire's aftermath is the next hurdle. Intense fires cause the loss of vital topsoil needed for regrowth, and destroy seeds. Fire suspension methods, such as bulldozing, can alter the landscape and contaminate the soil.

Is there anything you can do to help wildlife after a fire? Here are a few tips from Douglas D. McCreary, Natural Resources Specialist, University of California:

Build and install nest boxes.
Retain some down and dead large woody material for amphibians and reptiles.
Provide clean water in shallow containers for animals moving through your property.

It's all so much doom and gloom, but I was able to find one bit of good news: The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) reminds hunters that wild fires can alter hunting plans. Fire restrictions can limit a big game tag holder’s access in certain zones depending on conditions. So put away your guns, boys.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Popcorn and Handkerchiefs

I can't imagine why I willingly sit down and watch bad things happen to good animals, but I am, admittedly, a sucker for a heart-wrenching animal flick. Here's a list of my top four tear-jerkers:


The death of a devoted pet is bad enough, but having to kill that pet is unimaginable. And watching all this on the screen? Nuts. Yet, a couple of years ago, I sat my daughter down to watch this classic. I've probably scarred her for life.

BAMBI (1942) and DUMBO (1941)

These animations deal with losing or being separated from one's mother. Boy, that Disney guy sure knew how to pull our heartstrings--two more tear-inducing flicks. Dumbo may have been what initially turned me off circuses.

BORN FREE (1966)

It's been over 40 years since I first saw this film, yet even humming the title song can still choke me up. Unlike the other movies listed here, this one was based on a true story, and that makes it even more poignant. If I cry over a lioness leaving home, how the hell am I going to deal with my daughter going off on her own?

Come to think of it, I haven't see a good, bawl-your-eyes-out animal movie for a long time. Any recommendations?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Winterizing Your Pet

Up here, in the land of drastic seasonal changes, winter will soon be upon us. Snow, ice, chilling winds--man, I can hardly wait. Fortunately, I'm able to come into the house when I'm cold, put on the appropriate number of layers while I'm outside, and blast the heater when I'm in the car. Pets can't voice their complaints, so rely on their owners to keep them safe from winter's woes.


I don't have to worry about my cat as she only goes into the backyard, with me, on warm, dry days. Cat owners, who do let their cats outside, should be aware that:

Cats seeking warmth under vehicle hoods can be killed by the fan belt once the car is started. I once believed this to be an urban myth, but it happened to a friend of mine (and to his own cat). He described the result as "kitty catchatorie". Cat owner or not, always bang on the hood before starting your car.

Cats like the taste of antifreeze. Not a good thing. Clean up any spills immediately.

If you must keep or let your cat outdoors in the winter, make sure they have a secure place, protected from the wind and the wet.


Now, dogs have to go outside (unless there's a stupid dog product called "The Doggy Litter" that I missed). Some dogs tolerate the cold well, but for those who favour warmer weather, then a dog coat might be just the thing. Yes, I know this goes against what I preached in my Dapper Dogs post, but as long as the owner isn't trying to make a fashion statement, I think it's okay.

If your pet is outside, check on him often because conditions can change suddenly. If you keep your dog outside all winter (brrr!), give them adequate shelter and a supply of fresh water.

Leaving a dog in the car during the winter months can be just as dangerous as it is in the summer months. A car holds the cold, acting like a refrigerator, so is potentially deadly.

I know you keep your pet safe, but perhaps your neighbour doesn't. If that's the case, why not print off this post and stick it in his mailbox? Anonymously, of course.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dog Names: The Cultural Differences

I've never given much thought to naming my pets--the names just seem to come out then stick. I've had cats named Strider (yeah, I'm an LOTR fan) and Chowder. For years, my daughter said, "When we get another cat, I'm going to name it [insert weird name here]", but she decided on Meeko when the time finally came.

When I was growing up, we had dogs named Melody and Tammy (a samoyed, similar to the dog in the pic). I've no idea if those two names were ever popular, but they don't come close to making today's list. Here are the top ten dog names in the US and UK. Searched for a Canadian list, but to no avail:

United States


United Kingdom


When it comes to naming pets, it appears most of us aren't all that original. Both lists feature strong male names and feminine female names. There are Maxs and Mollys on both sides of the pond, and the only difference I can see is that there are more male dogs in the UK than in the US. And despite its popularity, I've never met a dog named Rocky.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cat Trivia

I remember when my daughter first started feeding herself--what a mess. By the time she was finished eating spaghetti, the floor looked like it was covered in red shag. But honestly, she had nothing on my cat. Meeko lifts the food from her bowl, and eats from the floor. Sometimes, she even carries food into the family room--sort of like T.V. dinner for cats.

Although I'm sure Meeko gets a big kick out of watching me clean it up, I figured there must be other reasons for her behaviour. I've checked the Internet, and this is what I came up with:

Cats don't like their whiskers to touch the sides of a bowl.

I'll start giving her food in a larger dish, and report back. In my search for answers to this and other deep questions, I discovered that there's lots of weird and wonderful things about cats:

A cat doesn't meow at another cat.

I know this was true of my cat, Chowder. She saved that sound just for me--at 4:00 in the morning, when she was hungry and I was sleeping. I feel very special.

25% of cat owners blow dry their cat after a bath.

As amazed as I am by this fact, I'm more amazed that people even attempt giving their cat a bath. I tried this once, and discovered it would be far safer to fling myself into a pack of hungry lions.

A cat that bites you after you have rubbed his stomach, is probably biting out of pleasure, not anger.

This is good news--my cat must be deliriously happy.

To determine if your cat's collar fits properly, make sure you can slip two fingers under the collar, between the collar and your cat's neck.

I have a confession to make: I always check the collars of other people's cats. If I feel they're too tight, I loosen them when no one is looking. I feel a bit like a guardian angel, though if I was caught in the act, I'm sure the owners wouldn't agree.

Monday, October 1, 2007

More Than A Lap Warmer

I've always been fascinated by tales of pets saving families from impending doom, so when fellow Backspace member, Sandra Kring related this story, I asked if I could include it on my blog. Since I could never do the story justice, she kindly permitted me to copy it here. Take it away, Sandra:

I had a dog for years. Well, my son was supposed to have a dog, but considering that the poor thing would have starved to death had he stayed glued to that master, he decided that I would be his master instead. He was a HUGE golden, 145 lbs, and lazy as the day is long. My son clocked him once—he stood for seventeen whole seconds.

The dog never barked when inside. If he wanted something, he’d whine (mildly), and if he REALLY wanted something, he’d rock (slightly) from side to side while he whined. Mute inside or not, it's not like you can ignore the fact that you have a 145 lb appendage stuck to your side. When I'm writing and have to get up, I make tracks! Not easily done, when you have to wait for a fat pumpkin to roll out of your way first. I bought him a bed in the hopes that he’d keep to his own side of the room, but sooner or later (usually sooner) he’d lumber out of it and flop down at my side. I can’t count the times I landed on the floor because I hadn’t heard him join me, and I tripped over him when I got up quickly. The dog was so quiet that he could even vomit without making noise. He barfed up a whole squirrel at my feet once, without a peep. Unfortunately, I leaned down low to see what it was, since my eyes hadn’t yet adjusted from the brightness of my monitor, to the dimness of the room. Man!

Pesky or not, that dog saved my life. Literally! I was feverishly writing the first book I’d sell, and I had tunnel vision. I sent everyone off on their merry way to work and school, and dug into my story. After a couple of hours, Buppa started whining. He’d already had his breakfast and his morning bark-fest outside, so I told him to go lie down. Up and down he went, in my room, out of my room, staring at me, whining, rocking, and finally, barking. I got up then and followed him. He moved like a bowling ball tossed by The Hulk to the other end of the house, barking at the smoke that was rolling out from under the basement door. I let the dog outside, called the fire department, and then hurried to my room to gather my writing.

The firemen got the fire out before the whole house went up, and other than smoke damage that required all new curtains and fresh paint, and melted pipes that needed to be replaced, all was well. Seriously, as oblivious as I am when writing, that whole house would have gone up in flames and I wouldn’t have noticed until the smoke got too thick for me to see my monitor.

Buppa died two springs ago at the ripe old age of sixteen—so much for obesity and inactivity causing early deaths! He was a pest, but I miss that fat, rocking pumpkin.

Sandra, thanks for sharing your wonderful memories of Buppa (pictured above). He was truly a heroic pumpkin. Stories like Sandra's prove that pets are much more than simple lap warmers and eating machines. In the news:

Earlier this year, a 14 year old Indiana cat awakened the family when carbon monoxide leaked into the home.

In August, a family dog protected four children after a bear wandered into their Vancouver yard.

Just today, my cat chased off a rather large and scary grasshopper.

We see lots of "Dog Saves Owner" headlines, but there are "Owner Saves Dog" stories too. In Hong Kong, Catherine Leonard rescued her dog from becoming a 15 foot python's main squeeze. Catherine doesn't recall exactly what she did to free her beloved pet, but once the adrenalin kicked in, nothing was going to stop her.

I'd like to believe that our pets are similarily motivated, but who knows? When pets smell poisonous gas, they might just be thinking, "Holy crap, I'd better wake up the hairless, two-legged being, or I'm gonna die!"

Next time your at the bookstore, be sure to look for Sandra's books The Book of Bright Ideas and Carry Me Home: A Novel

Cats, Costumes and Claws

In my Dapper Dogs post, Devon implied in her comment that it might be difficult to find any stupid cat products. She was absolutely right. I've come to the conclusion that cats have far too much common sense, but that doesn't mean humans share that trait:

A boon for lazy cat owners. I mean, who really enjoys cleaning out the kitty litter? But do cats wipe the seat and flush once they're done?

This poor guy must've been tripped out on cat nip when he allowed his owners to dress him up for Halloween.

This is a waste of money because...

...cats will sleep wherever the hell they want.

These are called Soft Paws and fit over a cat's claws. I've no idea how hygenic they are, or how practical, but I'll bet they're near impossible to put on. So unless you're willing to walk around with bloody ribbons hanging from your shoulders instead of arms, I'd steer clear of these.

Go back and take another look at that costumed cat. Its owners should be pelted with cat treats, and forced to clean kitty litters for a week. Man, we're lucky cats put up with us at all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Making Tracks

Spending time up north with my brother-in-law, Steve, is like having one's own personal nature guide. He points out animal tracks and (I assume) correctly identifies them. He can recognize a hawk when it's a mere speck in the sky. He can even distinguish raccoon poop from skunk poop. When I'm with Steve, I feel closer to nature. It makes me realize that I've lived in the city too long, and have probably missed out on some very neat stuff.

Which brings me to a childhood fantasy I had. I wanted to be like Disney's Snow White, not because I'm especially into dwarves, but because I wanted all the woodland creatures to be fearless of me. I wanted birds to land on my shoulder and sing in my ear, and bunnies to rest at my feet. I believed that if animals loved you, then you must be a nice person.

I no longer have that fantasy, well, not very often. I suppose I'll have to settle for a domesticated cat who occasionally comes when I call.

Anyway, back to animal tracks. Can you identify the one in the picture?

Image courtesy of OpenCage

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What I'll Go Through For My Cat

Performatrin Ultra
The dried food I buy for my cat is called Performatrin Ultra: Slim Care Formula. It's great stuff (my cat told me so). I recommended it to my parents for their overweight, grouchy as hell cat. Within weeks, not only had their cat regained her girlish figure, she positively purred (Note: they had been using a vet-recommended brand).

As I said, it's great stuff. Unfortunately, in my area, Performatrin can be purchased at only one store. The employees are friendly and knowledgeable, and the store is well-stocked, but I dread going there to buy the food.

Why? Because they have caged kittens and cats up for adoption--right there, at the front of the store. There's no way I can avoid their furry paws reaching through the mesh, nor can I resist their sad eyes and pitiful meows (it's a wonder I don't come home with a package of food under one arm and a cat under the other).

Anyway, tonight I noticed that I only had a bit of Performatrin left. I've thought about asking my husband to go to the store for me, but he'd probably look at me like I'd lost the final bolt that was holding my mind together.

Wish me luck--I'm going back to the store tomorrow.

Click here for more information about this great cat food (would my cat lie to you?)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mid-Air Collisions

Eons ago, when I worked in Toronto, I passed the Exchange Tower each morning on my mad dash from the train. One day, I spotted an injured bird on the ground, beside the Tower's massive windows.

What a beauty it was--long beak and smooth, brown plumage. Its black eyes were open, and I wanted so much to pick up the bird and comfort it (of course, that would probably have stressed it even more). Suddenly, getting to work on time was no longer important. I assumed the bird had hit the window, so I waited, hoping it had only been stunned. But the poor thing never recovered.

At work, the image of the bird haunted me. By the afternoon, I decided to contact the Tower's management. This was in the days before PC's and email, so I typed up a letter and mailed it off.

Within a month, I received a reply. They'd looked into the problem, and had been advised by the Ontario Science Centre to put dark silhouettes of hawks on the windows--the birds would steer clear of the presumed predator.

For years afterward, it gave me a great deal of satisfaction whenever I happened to look up at the hawk silhouettes. I don't know how many birds may have been saved, but I felt my letter had made a difference.

And I believe we can all make a difference--no matter how small.

Thanks to Eartheasy for the hawk silhouette. To learn about environmentally sustainable living, visit Greg Seaman's helpful website: Eartheasy

Thursday, September 13, 2007

You Can't Do That: Strange Animal Laws

You've got to wonder what prompted lawmakers to come up with these gems:

It is illegal to...

...herd more than 2000 sheep down Hollywood Blvd. at one time.

(Must've been passed after disaster struck during the filming of a Mel Brooks movie)

...allow cats to run loose without a tail light.

(Might be easier just to keep your cat indoors)

...take a lion to the movies in Baltimore.

(I suppose they came up with this one after MGM's early attempts at reality TV backfired) give lighted cigars to pets in Zion, Illinois

(I completely agree--not only is smoking bad for 'em, pets are hopeless when it comes to using ashtrays) educate dogs in Hartford.

(Makes sense--most of them are smarter than us already) give alcohol to a moose in Fairbanks.

(Takes the sport out of hunting them, I suppose. Sigh)

...for a farmer to sleep with his livestock in Clawson, Michigan.

(No comment)

...for cats and dogs to have sex without a permit in Ventura, California.

(Perhaps it's lawmakers who should require a permit)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dapper Dogs

There is something seriously wrong with this picture. Yes, the brown dress is perfect for the dog's "complexion", and the fit is enviable. But it's a freaking dress! Dogs should not wear dresses or pants or hats or whatever. It's demeaning, and probably pretty darn hot--after all, most of them do come with their own fur coats.

What is it with people who humanize their pets? I've a theory: Our pets tolerate us. They'd have a far better time running with a pack of their canine friends, or hanging out at night with their feline mates. Sure, life might be tougher without their personal chefs, but pets would be perfectly happy to do without. Animals are intuitive--they realize how much we depend on them, so they stick with us out of pity. Now, don't say I didn't warn you--you're pushing their patience to the limit if you put clothes on them.

There's big business in pet accessories, clothes and specialty foods. Here are more useless items:

Actual dog treats. Let's face it, dogs will eat poop if given the chance--they don't care what their treats look like.

The Doggone Thong. A gas-neutralizing pad for, you know, your dog's flatulence proplems. I can't believe this product is for real, but if it is, you'll be happy to know that the thong is washable and reusable.

Next on my hit list--useless cat products.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different

I'd be remiss if I didn't post something about Backspace's amazing Agent - Author seminar, taking place in New York on November 6 and 7. With only agents on the program, the seminars are a terrific opportunity to network, ask questions, talk about your work, and listen and learn from the people who make their living selling books.

I've attended three Backspace conferences, and If I had something at the agent search stage, I'd be at this seminar in a flash!

Check it out:

Backspace Agent-Author Seminar 2007

And if you aren't already a Backspace member, what are you waiting for? Joining this online community of writers might be the best thing you can do for your writing career--not to mention your sanity:

Join Backspace Now

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Going, Going, Gone

Grand Canyon Arizona
I watched Nature on PBS this week. The "Life in Death Valley" series highlights the plight of the Devil's Hole Pupfish--a fish that exists nowhere else and has survived in isolation for over 25,000 years. Until recently that is. Now, there's only about 125 of the little guys left. For more information: Life in Death Valley: Little Fish, Big Splash

This got me wondering about the many animals that are on the brink of extinction (never mind the ones that have already fallen over the edge). A large number of these are kept in the relative safety of zoos, but their living-in-the-wild brethren aren't faring too well:

2000 Giant Panda (Asia)
1650 Peregrin Falcon (North America)
1400 Hawaiian Monk Seal (Central Pacific)
700 Black-footed Ferrets (N.A.)
650 Mountain Gorilla (East Africa)
300 Cook Inlet Beluga Whale (Alaska)
200 Riverine Rabbit (South Africa)
100 Florida Panther (N.A.)
100 Red Wolf (N.A.)
100 Pink Dolphin (Taiwan)

And there's only 10-20 million black-tailed prairie dogs left. Yeah, I know, that sounds like a lot, but consider that their numbers have decreased by 95% in the last century.

Human encroachment, pollution, disease, commercial hunting/fishing, poaching--there's a long list of reasons why the world's wildlife are disappearing. The fact that we're responsible for the declining numbers is rather obvious.

I'll leave you with these fitting quotes:

"What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected."

Chief Seattle, Leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes

"Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it."

Milan Kundera, Czech Author, Critic

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Stop Calling Me!

About twice each year, I get the same phone call. The conversation goes something like this:

"We want to thank you for your ongoing support of the Shrine Circus, and hope you'd once again purchase tickets--"

"I've never bought tickets," I say. "Does the circus have any performing animals?"

"Of course."

"I don't believe in forcing animals to do crazy stunts for my entertainment."

"Perhaps you'd like to sponsor a child to attend?"

"Uh, no. How do I get my name off your list?"

"You'd have to talk to my supervisor."

I can't be bothered. This isn't a rant against the Shriners--they do excellent work--but I've never purchased tickets, so why do they keep calling me? The bigger questions are, why do circuses continue to use the animals, and why do people support the spectacle? It's selfish and cruel. Damned circus freaks.

And those marine parks with the whales and dolphins?

Oh, don't get me started.

Thanks to The Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS) for the use of their poster image. Check out their website: CAPS Website

Monday, August 27, 2007

Best Cat Toy Ever

My cat, Meeko, has a basket full of toys--feathers, balls, and cat-nip filled goodies, but this "Birds of a Tether" from Hartz is her all-time favourite. She'll be walking through the room, spot the feathers dangling above the ball, then go into attack mode. The weighted ball stops the toy from falling over. Hours of fun. Okay, minutes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Caught in the Headlights: Wildlife on Our Roads

On Sunday, I drove past three dead raccoons--one large, two quite small--grouped together at the side of the road. Whenever I see roadkill, I imagine a possible scenario: After foraging for food, a mother raccoon makes her way back to her children only to be struck by a car. But on that particular Sunday morning, it was the entire family of raccoons who lost their lives. It makes me incredibly sad to see wildlife so senselessly killed (although it's hard to think of a senseful killing).

According to a study by L.P. Tardiff & Associates for Transport Canada, motor vehicles may be the number one predator of wildlife. Some statistics from Wikipedia:

"Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People Newspaper estimated that the following animals are being killed by motor vehicles in the United States annually:

41 million squirrels
26 million cats
22 million rats
19 million opossums
15 million raccoons
6 million dogs
350,000 deer

Often, there's not much a driver can do to avoid hitting animals that venture onto the road, especially at night. Animals react differently--a rabbit's frozen bewilderment as a car barrels toward it; a deer's unexpected jog to the left when we expect it to go right. So it's up to us to take precautions.

What drivers can do:

Ease up on the gas pedal when driving through wildlife areas. Look for the yellow, diamond-shaped warning signs.

Watch for movement at the roadside, and slow down when you see any. It's far better to use your brakes than to use your wheel as swerving may result in the loss of control.

Be aware that wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk.

Watch for the car's headlights reflecting off the animal's eyes. Often drivers will see the shining eyes before they see the animal.

Anticipate unpredictable behaviour from all wildlife.

What governments can do:

Build wildlife underpasses and overpasses. On the Trans-Canada Highway, through Banff National Park, 24 underpasses and overpasses have been constructed--the largest scale wildlife passage in the world. Since 1996, more than 50,000 large mammals have used them, and animal-vehicle collisions have dropped by 80%.

Erect animal crossing signs on high-risk stretches.

Invest in heat-seeking cameras that detect animals and warn drivers when one is ahead, or wildlife warning systems that use alternating sounds and lights to scare animals when vehicles approach.

For more information on reducing the risk, check out this site:

Wildlife Collision Prevention Program

Let me know if there are other measures we can take to keep our wildlife safe and alive.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chowder is a Cover Girl

I adopted my cat, Chowder, in 1990. She was a kitten, the last of three sisters, and huddled in the back of the cage, alone and terrified. Over the next sixteen years, Chowder survived (though never quite accepted) the arrival of my daughter, the addition of another cat, and feline diabetes. She was a long-haired, green-eyed beauty who, with age, became somewhat of a crank.

But I loved her all the same.

Chowder made an appearance in both of my young adult fantasies, Key to Aten and Return to Aten. After the second book was finished, I sent my editor, Nancy Hammerslough, a picture of Chowder. I figured Nancy would like putting a furry face to the name. My editor not only liked the pic, she wanted to put Chowder on the cover of the book.

Now, as she got older (and crankier), Chowder stopped grooming herself, and she wouldn't allow me to brush her for longer than 30 seconds. Whenever she seemed in a mellow mood, I'd cut dense mats from her fur and run a damp cloth over her. I wasn't optimistic about getting a good photo.

Chowder died only one month after the book came out. She didn't know she was a cover girl, but I was pleased that she'd been immortalized (at least until the book goes out of print). And I think the picture turned out pretty good, don't you?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Strays and Snowstorms

After a snowstorm, earlier this year, I began clearing my driveway. Amid the scrapings of shovels along the street, I heard a plaintive "Meow." Then another. My "Kitty in trouble" radar went up, and I searched for the source.

Several houses down, a large, black and white cat peered from atop a garage roof. A neighbour and I rescued the cat, set it on the ground, and wondered how the big guy got up there in the first place.

Then the cat followed me home.

I should have continued shoveling, but instead, I let the poor thing in the house where he proceeded to eat and make himself completely at home. Only problem was, I already had a cat and she was terrified of the newcomer.

The male cat (alternately named Buddy and Benjamin), was extremely friendly, affectionate and intelligent. And he wanted to be boss. After five days, a visit to the vet, 50 unanswered "Found Cat" notices around town, multiple sprayings inside my house, and an incredible amount of stress in my own cat, I took Buddy/Benjamin to the OSPCA (The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

The shelter near my home has great facilities--large rooms, comfortable bedding, clean litters, windows, and lots of cat toys. Despite that, I cried as I filled out the forms and paid the Society to find this wonderful cat a new home. I promised myself that if he wasn't adopted within the month, I'd buy him back and live with the consequences.

During the following week, my daughter and I visited him, and he seemed to have settled in with the other cats quite well. I watched his progress on the OSPCA website (where they had named him "Eddie" for some reason), and by week two, he'd been adopted.

He was only in our house for five days, but he still made a big impression on us. Perhaps not as big an impression as he made on Meeko, our own cat. She still avoids the chair that Buddy/Benjamin/Eddie had claimed for his own.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Pet Protector to the Rescue

Dear owner: Please leave me at home. It gets really, really hot in the car. I don’t like it. Love, your loyal pet.

Does this look familiar? I hope not. If you’ve been the recipient of such a note, then you’re guilty of inflicting a cruelty no animal should be forced to suffer—being left in a parked car on a warm day.

Yes, I’m willing to admit that I am the local pet protector who secretly slides these notes under your windshield wiper. As you may have noticed, I always make sure that the writing faces the inside of the vehicle. That way, it can be easily read when you finally do return to your pet.

I am the person who advised the cashier at Chapters that you had left your headlights on. It was the tiniest of lies. I’d hoped that, after hearing the announcement, you would rush out, read my note, feel the appropriate amount of shame and vow never to leave your dog in the car again. Just to let you know, I waited 15 minutes before you returned. What were you thinking?

Many errant pet owners may claim they’re only making a quick dash into the grocery store. But you know how it is; a list of three items can soon turn into a cart full of food. The line-ups can seem excruciatingly long to the animal you’ve left in the stifling heat.

Just recently, I happened upon a policeman standing helplessly beside a parked car. A dog, its tongue dangling over its lower jaw, paced along the back seat. Interested bystanders lingered in front of the stores. The cop mumbled into his radio. Was he getting permission to break the window and rescue the animal? I sat in my own car (windows cranked open) and waited.

The sound of smashing glass was not to be. Instead, a harried woman, with two young children tugging on her arm, approached the car. At that moment, I envisioned her back at home, rounding up the kids, searching for her purse and shopping list before heading, breathless, out the door. The kids may have begged to bring Fido along with them. Overworked and tired, she gave in.

The cop spoke to her, the crowd dispersed, and I started my car and pulled away. I had mixed feelings about that particular episode. I could empathize with the woman but the fact remained—the dog could have died.

Even with the windows partially open, the temperature inside a car can reach 49 degrees Celsius within minutes. I often hear warnings on the radio and television advising pet owners about the dangers. And, still, people continue to invite their beloved canine friends along for the ride.

Last summer, unprepared, I would scribble my notes on any available scrap of paper—a bank receipt or a Starbucks serviette. This year, when the warm weather began to poke its way through the winter’s chill, I knew it was time to pull my pet protector cloak from the closet. Anticipating a rash of owners not heeding the media warnings, I’ve printed off 20 copies of the note (it’s true, this is becoming a bit of an obsession). I’ll stash the notes in my glove compartment and, hopefully, there will be some remaining when the weather eventually begins to cool.

No one’s ever caught me playing the crusader to these four-legged victims. I’m very careful. With the ease of a seasoned stalker, I stroll toward my target and, in a fluid motion, whisk the piece of paper into place. Seldom do the animals, usually dogs, make any kind of fuss. The odd time, I see the owners discover my note. It’s interesting to observe their suspicious and, sometimes, angry glances around the parking lot.

I’m not brave enough for a confrontation with the dog’s owner; I know how defensive I would get if someone questioned my ability to care for my pet. Most people love and treat their pets as an important member of the family. It’s understandable that, in a moment of weakness, owners give in to the pleading in their dog’s eyes as they pick up the car keys. This is one time that owners must say no. The animal will be much happier and safer in the home.

I will continue to protect the furry citizens in my town. I encourage everyone to be on the lookout for those black noses pressed through a sliver of open window, trying to catch a whisper of fresh air. Print your own notes (I always try to be as polite as possible). Make a difference. Save a life.

My essay, Pet Protector to the Rescue, first appeared in the Globe and Mail in July 2003.